Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

by Jeff Gottesfeld (Author) Matt Tavares (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

With every step, the Tomb Guards pay homage to America's fallen. Discover their story, and that of the unknown soldiers they honor, through resonant words and illustrations.

Keeping vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington National Cemetery, are the sentinel guards, whose every step, every turn, honors and remembers America's fallen. They protect fellow soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, making sure they are never alone. To stand there--with absolute precision, in every type of weather, at every moment of the day, one in a line uninterrupted since midnight July 2, 1937--is the ultimate privilege and the most difficult post to earn in the army. Everything these men and women do is in service to the Unknowns. Their standard is perfection. Exactly how the unnamed men came to be entombed at Arlington, and exactly how their fellow soldiers have come to keep vigil over them, is a sobering and powerful tale, told by Jeff Gottesfeld and luminously illustrated by Matt Tavares--a tale that honors the soldiers who honor the fallen.

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School Library Journal

Gr 3-5--This title is a tribute to the nameless fallen soldiers and the sentinels who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The poetic prose uses the collective first person to describe the deceased's imagined appreciation for the sentinels. The narrative begins with "The Sentinel's Creed," and concludes with a factual afterword. The main text provides a history and reverence for the dedication and exactitude of the guards who pace in precise intervals, every hour of every day. The somber and inclusive illustrations are drawn in pencil and painted digitally. The people who guard the tomb are depicted as strong, stoic men and women. Soldiers and family members include Black characters. Readers see the gleam of their highly polished shoes, the reflection in their mirrored sunglasses, and their perfectly pressed uniforms flecked in snow. The crowds visiting the tomb vary in age and race; one is shown with a head covering, one wears a yarmulke, one has a prosthetic leg, and one uses a wheelchair. The occasionally awkward first-person viewpoint combined with some difficult vocabulary may make it difficult for the youngest readers. VERDICT This book's message of selflessness is as clear as the click of the metal-studded heels of sentinels walking their appointed steps.--Lisa Taylor, Florida State Coll., Jacksonville

Copyright 2021 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
Jeff Gottesfeld
Jeff Gottesfeld is an acclaimed writer whose work has won awards from the American Library Association, the Writers Guild of America, and the National Council for the Social Studies. He has previously written for adult, teen, middle-grade, and picture book audiences. Jeff Gottesfeld is based in Los Angeles.

Matt Tavares is the author-illustrator of Crossing Niagara, Henry Aaron's Dream, There Goes Ted Williams, Becoming Babe Ruth, and Growing Up Pedro, as well as Zachary's Ball, Oliver's Game, and Mudball. He is the illustrator of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, Over the River and Through the Wood, Lady Liberty by Doreen Rappaport, The Gingerbread Pirates by Kristin Kladstrup, and Jubilee! by Alicia Potter. He is also the creator of the modern Christmas tales Red and Lulu and the New York Times bestseller Dasher. Matt Tavares lives in Ogunquit, Maine.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
February 20, 2021
Age Range
6 - 10 years

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